PHILADEPHIA — I am here at a sold-out Neshoba County Coliseum where tonight Super Bowl-winning football Tony Dungy is the keynote speaker at a fund-raiser for East Central Community College’s football program.
Dungy’s connection to East Central, located in tiny Decatur?
Dungy and ECCC second-year coach Ken Karcher are long-time friends who share not only football coaching but strong Christian faith.
When asked why he had flown from his home in Tampa to take part in tonight’s program, Dungy answered: “I came here because Ken asked me to. We have that kind of friendship.”
That’s just the kind of answer I would expect from Dungy, who does everything he does — from playing football, to coaching football, to commentating on football, to being a friend — with total class. Tony Dungy is the real deal.
Dungy is also the son of a father who spent 30 years as a teacher at the junior college level in Michigan. He knows the value of a junior college education for young people who just can’t afford four years at a university.
“I believe in the mission here,” Dungy said.
Dungy said he learned earlier Friday that his former quarterback, Peyton Manning, spent much of his childhood summer vacations in Philadelphia, the hometown of Olivia Manning, Peyton’s mother.
“Peyton texted me and said I should stop by Williams Store,” Dungy said, smiling. “That’s something I hope to do. I’ll tell you, I am glad to have gotten to know that family.”
Like everyone else on the planet, Dungy has been astounded by Peyton Manning’s comeback from what many believed to be a career ending neck injury.
“What people don’t understand is how serious it was” Dungy said. “My wife was concerned for Peyton. I was concerned for Peyton. Nobody was sure if he could come back from that. The Indianapolis Colts could not find a doctor that said the chances were very good he could come back.
“He had to learn how to throw the ball again, but first he had to get to the point where he could just grip the ball again. That he was able to come back from that and have that record-breaking season is a credit not only to him but the way he was raised.
“Let me put it this way: When your best player is also your hardest worker and your most dedicated player, it makes coaching easy. That’s what Peyton did for me.”
And then Dungy gave an example.
“In 2007, we drafted tight end Anthony Gonzales out of Ohio State,” Dungy said. “Unfortunately in the spring, Ohio State was still in session and Tony was still in school, so he couldn’t make our off-season workouts and practices.
“So, two days a week, Peyton would get up and drive to Columbus where he would watch film with Tony and then throw to him for a couple hours. It turned out to be an eight-hour day, counting the driving but Peyton did it. He didn’t do it for Tony and he didn’t do it for himself. He did it for the team. He did it to make us better. He was a 10-year veteran, and he didn’t have to do it. That’s what I mean: When your best player is your most dedicated player, it makes coaching easy.”